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(photo credit: Noy Courtesy Photo)
Israel's most veteran and most consistently loyal friends in Asia, the Japanese Makuya, a Christian Zionist movement founded more than half a century ago by the late Shinto-born Prof. Abraham Ikuro Teshima, who in his 'teens converted to Christianity, is currently on its 51st annual pilgrimage to Israel.
A non-Church movement with a fervent love for Israel, the Bible, the Hebrew language and the Jewish people, the Makuya boast a large repertoire of Hebrew songs, both liturgical and secular.
The delegation currently in Israel visited Beit Hanassi on Sunday to pay its respects to President Moshe Katsav and to convey its wishes for the recovery of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The men wore ultra marine vests emblazoned on the back with a white Star of David and the women came clad in striking kimonos held together by magnificent obis. The women lined up outside the doorway from which Katsav was to emerge into the reception hall, and as he appeared, Japanese and Israeli flaghs were waved and voices lifted in song to chant in Hebrew that there is no comprise on Zion and Jerusalem. The song continued as Katsav wended his way through the crowd, and then changed to Oseh Shalom (Maker of Peace).
Delegation leader Koyeku Mitunaga, after thanking Katsav for receiving the group stated: "Our prayer is for peace for Jerusalem, and blessings for the land of Israel and the people of Israel. We also wish for a speedy recovery, for Prime Minister Sharon."
Katsav told his guests that he would convey their wishes to Sharon's family. He had spoken with Ariel Sharon only a few hours before the prime minister had been struck down by illness, said Katsav. The central theme of their conversation had been the impending visit to Israel by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Sharon, not aware at the time of the gravity of his illness, but knowing that he was going into hospital for a procedure, had asked Katsav to host Koizumi in his stead, and to discuss affairs of state with him. Katsav had instantly agreed and Sharon had been most appreciative of Katsav's willingness to accept the additional responsibility.
In the final analysis, Koizumi postponed his visit, stating in the letter that he sent to acting prime minister Ehud Olmert on January 5 that he was "deeply concerned" about Sharon's condition, and expressed best wishes for the prime minister's earliest recovery.
Katsav subsequently told The Jerusalem Post when asked what he would say to Sharon on his birthday if he was able to speak to him, that he would tell him how widely beloved he is and he would also wish him a full and speedy recovery.
In thanking the Makuya for their unwavering commitment towards Israel, Katsav spoke warmly of the "special connection" between Makuya and the Jewish people, and of the ever strengthening ties between Japan and Israel, "both of which are the countries of ancient peoples who have contributed significantly to civilization." He was particularly mindful of the manner in which Makuya had stood firm with Israel in 1967 and 1973.